Ex-governor breaks a few eggs, starts new career - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Ex-governor breaks a few eggs, starts new career

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Posted: Wednesday, April 2, 2003 8:52 am | Updated: 1:26 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A typical workday for former Gov. Fife Symington used to include Cabinet meetings, huddles with lawmakers and a standard-issue dark suit and tie.

Not anymore. The onetime real estate developer, forced from office after being convicted of bank fraud in 1997, has reinvented himself — as a pastry chef.

He and Franco Fazzuoli, a chef and restaurateur, opened Franco’s Italian Caffe in Phoenix in February.

‘‘This is where my heart is,’’ said Symington. ‘‘I’d rather be doing this than making money. It’s a great experience. . . . I get to start all over again, and that’s a great thing to do.’’

His specialties now include tiramisu — spongecake pieces soaked in coffee and liqueur, layered with cheese and chocolate — and his own chocolate mousse cake recipe, dubbed ‘‘The Governor (high taste, low taxes).’’

Symington resigned as governor in September 1997, an hour after a federal jury convicted him of bank fraud — charges that stemmed from his bankrupt real estate empire.

‘‘At that moment, I absolutely made up my mind I was going to leave without bitterness or recriminations. I was going to chart a different path,’’ said Symington, as he stood in the Franco’s kitchen clad in a white chef’s smock and apron.

The transition wasn’t easy.

Survival was not the issue; he was still wealthy. But overnight, the security detail was gone, as was the administrative staff. Many of his friends were suddenly gone too. And Symington faced the prospect of prison.

He said he felt naked. ‘‘You still have a high profile. People continue to stare at you. You worried about your family, that sort of thing.’’

While his attorney appealed his conviction, Symington took refuge in culinary school.

Just five months after leaving office, he was scrubbing rubber kitchen floor mats, cleaning deep fat fryers and struggling to learn proper knife techniques.

He completed the first six weeks of culinary ‘‘boot camp’’ and spent another year slicing, kneading and sauteing his way to a culinary arts and restaurant management degree. He interned in a Scottsdale restaurant Fazzuoli owned at the time.

His legal prospects improved dramatically in 1999, when the 9 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his criminal convictions. A pardon issued by President Clinton in January 2001 ensured charges would not be refiled, though Symington insists he eventually would have prevailed, regardless.

With his legal troubles behind him, the 57-year-old Symington returned to his entrepreneurial roots — with a culinary flair. He helped start the Arizona Culinary Institute a year ago.

‘‘This has been a wonderful and exciting time in his life,’’ said Doug Cole, a friend and aide during Symington’s administration. ‘‘He’s just been pursing life with gusto and energy and vigor. It’s the old entrepreneurial Fife Symington.’’

While Cole said Symington had always been someone with an interest in food, the former governor never gave any indication he would someday spend mornings separating egg whites and yolks and chopping bittersweet chocolate.

Some people still don’t believe it, Fazzuoli said — ‘‘they think it’s a joke.’’

But Fazzuoli insists that Symington makes tiramisu as well as Fazzuoli’s own mother.

Would Symington, a Republican, ever attempt a return to Arizona politics?

‘‘It’s possible,’’ he said. ‘‘I think I did a really good job when I was in office. I stood — stand — for the right things.

‘‘But I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now.’’

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